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Opinion: Digital Music Signals Progress

posted Mar 27, 2011, 11:04 AM by Golden Knight   [ updated Mar 29, 2011, 2:23 PM ]

Posted in Technology 

By Christian Romo


I find it funny reading an article reminiscing over the “good old days” of dead music technology, especially written by someone who was born after Kurt Cobain sent generation X into frenzy. CD’s were no doubt a step-up from previous technology, but make no mistake, the MP3 is progress.

I have no qualms with the technological points Mr. Ramirez makes in his editorial. It’s true that MP3 files lose audio quality when compressed (and it’s even worse when music is ripped off a CD or record), but when weighed against the benefits of digital music, there’s no reason not to take your musical library into the 21st century.

Entire walls of bedrooms have been freed up for space thanks to the physical convenience of the iPod. There is no longer a need for massive home stereo systems to recreate quality sound in your home. We no longer need to dedicate entire bookshelves and milk crates to store our music. We no longer need headphones with Marvin the Martian antennas to enjoy a private moment with our music. We have evolved.  

For some, it’s a strictly American philosophy to sacrifice quality for convenience. Musical purists would scoff at any new technology that compromised the integrity of their beloved product, but there is a distinct difference between evolution and change. The MP3 offers many other benefits.

Digital music is the greenest form of musical consumption. The carbon footprint left by transporting and purchasing millions of CD’s is enormous. The tons of shrink-wrap and petroleum-based plastic it takes to produce CD’s is unfathomable. Even if the ecological cost of production is the last thing on your mind, the labor and resources that is saved by offering digital music is passed on through a reduction in market price to the consumer (ten bucks for an album is quite reasonable).

We can’t ignore that the Napster phenomenon hurt the music industry, but it has resulted in a mostly positive impact to artists. There is less of a reliance on blood-sucking record companies as bands can market their music themselves over the internet. Bands like the Arctic Monkeys and Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah put very few resources into marketing their music but gained a vast fan base thanks to the far reaching powers of digital music and the internet.

Free downloads of music (regardless of legality) haven’t hurt artists nearly as much as expected. The main form of income for artists now is not through record sales but through touring, and internet downloads have allowed music to be spread much faster and more efficiently than radio or MTV ever could.  Bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have willingly posted their most recent albums free on their own websites, and ironically those albums have been the best selling for those two groups.

But none of that addresses the topic of sound quality, so I will attempt to do so now. The affect on sound quality between CD’s and MP3 files is apparent, but negligible. A good song is a good song regardless of how it is listened to. I still feel bursts of ecstasy listening to Daft Punk on my iPod. I nearly cried when I first heard John Denver through the wimpy speakers of my laptop. A friend of mine introduced me to early Modest Mouse on his cell phone; to this day I’m a dedicated fan. We listen to music because it has the ability to make us feel. A song on a CD does not make me feel any more or any less than that same song on an MP3 file.

I understand the nostalgia attached to vinyl records or tape decks with midnight radio recordings, but I can’t reasonably see why those outdated technologies triumph over progress. After all, they did say to our parents once that rock ‘n roll was bad for them…